For the past few months, we followed and documented some of the most well-known Bachata dancers and teachers. Some of the videos went viral, they also sparkled some intense criticism on the definition of Bachata dance and Bachata music. Hereby we invited a long time teacher, musician and intellectual in the Bachata community, Pierre Henry, to share some thoughts on his understanding about Bachata.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher (zeluslondon.com)
WHAT IS BACHATA: THE DIFFERENT STYLES
– Piere Henry (DJ Piere)
There are many purists who would say that I don’t dance Bachata. There are many modern dancers who would say that I am anti-Sensual. In truth, I am neither – I am a musician. So, whenever the discussion about what is and what is not Bachata comes up, I always approach it from a musical perspective.
THE MUSIC: DOMINICAN VS INTERNATIONAL BACHATA
The sound of Bachata music from the Dominican Republic is very different to international Bachata music – even recently released music from Dominican Republic has a sound which is distinctly different to music that originates outside of DR.
Compare and contrast Esta Noche by Raulin Rodriguez, a Dominican Bachata track released in 2013, with Propuesta Indecente by Romeo Santos, an international Bachata track, also released in 2013.
They are very different, musically. To the untrained ear, one could easily assume that they are completely different genres of music, especially considering the heavy tango influence in Propuestsa Indecente – but they are not! They are both Bachata!
Why? Because they both use the same core ingredients – the bass, bongo, guira, rhythm guitar and lead guitar. It is not just the presence of those instruments, but the specific fundamental rhythms of each of those instruments which, when combined, give Bachata its distinctive and unique poly-rhythmical structure.
Rhythm is King
In Latin music and dancing, rhythm is king. Rhythm is what differentiates Son music from Cha Cha Chá and Cumbia dancing from Casino and rhythm is the common element that unites all styles of Bachata music and dance.
The Evolution of Bachata Music
Bachata music has evolved and continues to evolve. It has been fused with many different styles and influences, including Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop, Tango and has collaborations with artists such as Usher, Chris Brown, Shakira, Enrique Iglesias and more.
And yet, with all the diversity and creativity of all these musicians and artists, they have still managed to stick to the same formula – the formula that makes Bachata music Bachata!
Here is a small selection of songs – including original songs, covers, and remixes – which demonstrate the diversity that can be found under the Bachata umbrella, without losing the essence of Bachata.
- Luis Vargas – Loco de Amor (1994)
- Kiko Rodriguez – El Verde de Tus Ojos (1994)
- Antony Santos – Corazon Culpable (1995)
- Aventura – Obsésion (2001)
- Monchy y Alexandra – Hasta Al Final (2004)
- Toke D Keda – Lamento Boliviano (2005)
- Xtreme – Te Extrano (2005)
- Toby Love – Tengo Un Amor (2006)
- Joan Soriano – Su Lado de Cama (2010)
- Prince Royce – Corazon Sin Cara (2010)
- Romeo Santos – You (2011)
- Prince Royce & Usher – Promise (2011)
- Chelion – Dueno Eterno (2011)
- Hector Acosta – No Soy Un Hombre Malo (2012)
- Leslie Grace – Day One (2013)
- Romeo Santos – Propueste Indecente (2013)
- Prince Royce – Darte Un Beso (2013)
- Daniel Santacruz – Lo Dice La Gente (2014)
- Grupo Extra – Lejos de Ti (2014)
- Anthony Torres – Todo De Mi (2014)
- Jr – Amarte Sin Amarte (2015)
- Tony Dize – Superheroe (2015)
- Vicky Corbacho – Qué Bonito (2016)
- Dani J – Quitemonos La Ropa (2017)
- Kewin Cosmos – Evidencias (2017)
- Prince Royce & Chris Brown – Just As I Am (2017)
- Romeo Santos – Imitadora (2017)
- DJ Soltrix – One Dance (2017)
- DJ Khalid – Say My Name (2017)
The Bachata scene is thriving right now. Bachata is no longer the poor relation to Salsa, it has found its own independence and is capable of supporting its own ecosystem of parties and festivals. Everywhere you look, there is innovation – from teachers, from performers and even from DJs.
But, somewhere along the line, the rhythm of Bachata has been lost.
Bachata music is rich, diverse and includes many sub-genres, incorporating different styles and influences but, at its core, it still has … or had … the same fundamental instruments, rhythms and structures – Bajo (Bass), Bongó, Güira, Segunda (Rhythm Guitar), Requinto (Lead Guitar) and the rhythms of Derecho, Majao and Mambo.
These core elements were respected by every single Bachata artist from Luis Vargas to Aventura to Juan Luis Guerra to Prince Royce to Daniel Santacruz to Migz to Grupo Extra to Leslie Grace – all of them!
Even when mixed with other styles, the core Bachata elements remained. Odio by Romeo Santos (Pop/R&B), Darte Un Beso by Prince Royce (Reggae), Lo Dice La Gente by Daniel Santacruz (Tango) – these were all complex fusions of Bachata with completely different genres of music, but they still retained the essence of Bachata.
However, the recent proliferation of so-called “Bachata Remixes” do not respect those core elements. They do not retain the core instruments, rhythms or structures of Bachata music because many of the DJs producing these remixes do not understand the intricacies of Bachata music.
This is compounded by the fact that so many high-profile international artists are now using these remixes in their workshops, demos and performances. Intentionally or not, these music choices have an impact on students, peers, fans, promoters and the scene as a whole.
Covers, Remixes and Sensual Bachata Music
There are some very good Bachata Covers of pop and R&B songs which use all of the core instruments and rhythms of Bachata:
- Grupo Extra’s version of Careless Whisper by George Michael
- Anthony Torres’s version of All of Me by John Legend
- Leslie Grace’s version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow by The Shirelles
There are also some good Bachata remixes which also use all of the core instruments and rhythms of Bachata:
- DJ Soltrix’s version of Pillow Talk by Zayn Malik
- Louis Richner’s version of Climax by Usher
- LoneLez’s version of Fanatica Sensual by Plan B
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of remixes that claim to be “Bachata remixes” but are not:
- DJ Tronky’s version of Elastic Heart by Conor Maynard
- DJ Bergi’s version of Girlfriend by Abraham Mateo
- Ryan Miles’s version of Flashlight by Jessie J
These remixes do not use all of the core instruments and rhythms of Bachata and, although you can dance Bachata to theses tracks, without the full poly-rhythmic structure, there is nothing that specifically connects this type of music to Bachata dancing.
When comparing Bachata dancing from DR with the international style of Bachata dancing (aka Bachata Moderna), there are a lot of differences – just as there are a lot of differences between DR Bachata music and international music. They are structurally and aesthetically different.
However, they both express the same rhythm in the basic footwork which adds another, specific layer to the poly-rhythmical structure. Therefore, they are both Bachata!
I am well aware that many purists would disagree with this but, when you look at it from a musical perspective, the differences between Dominican Bachata music and international Bachata music are just as great as the differences between the Dominican and international styles of dancing Bachata.
This rhythmic connection between the basic footwork of the dance and the poly-rhythmical layering of the core instruments is not unique to Bachata. It is present in practically all styles of Latin music and partner dances – Salsa On1, Salsa On2, Son, Cha Cha Chá, Cumbia, Boléro and Bachata all have specific and distinctive basic footwork rhythms which correspond to specific accents of the core instruments in their related genres of music.
Sensual Bachata is like the dance equivalent of Bachata covers and remixes. It takes the core rhythm of Bachata footwork and fuses it with elements of other dance genres, the same way as covers and remixes take the core instruments and rhythms of Bachata and fuse them with other genres of music.
The problem comes when the dancers forget or lose the basic rhythm of the footwork – then it just becomes “Sensual” rather than “Sensual Bachata” – just like the remixes that lack some of the core instruments and rhythms of Bachata.
Unfortunately, the rhythm has not just been lost from the music, it has also been lost from the dance.
The “basics” in Bachata are not just a sequence of steps and taps, they are the physical expression of the layered rhythmic accents of the bass, the bongo and the rhythm guitar. There is a tangible, rhythmic, musical relationship between the basic steps of Bachata dance and the core elements of Bachata music.
The rhythmic expression of the basic steps forms the foundation of the dance, much the same as the Segunda forms the foundation of Bachata music. Trying to dance Bachata without the fundamental rhythm of the footwork is like trying to create a Bachata song without the Segunda – it lacks substance and feels empty.
The “basics” in Bachata nowadays are seen as nothing more than transitions between moves. The “tap” has lost its rhythmic significance and, in some cases, has more-or-less been completely forgotten.
It doesn’t matter what style of Bachata you dance, what other genres of dance you want to incorporate, your own personal style or expression – just like the music, if you want to call it “Bachata”, you need to retain the basic foundation – the rhythm.
Rhythm is the only common element that unites all styles of Bachata music and dance.
– Piere Henry (DJ Piere) is an Bachata teacher, DJ and musician based in London, UK.